A fascinating look into the rise and fall of filmmaking auteurs from the early 70s to the early 80s.
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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is a 2003 documentary film directed by Kenneth Bowser, based on the book of the same name written by Peter Biskind. The film attempts to detail the life and times of those trailblazing filmmakers from the early 70s till the early 80s who were primarily responsible for revitalizing Hollywood and how those same genius minds could not foresee their eventual demise.
I’ve not read the book this film was based on but I do know the bad rep it carries. There has been a multitude of people from Hollywood who came out against the book for being chock full of half-truth and whole lies. This slight bit of baggage created an air of apprehensiveness before I made my way to watching this film. Amazingly, the film circumvents those controversies by doing one simple thing. It brings in the writers, directors, actors and producers, who are being profiled in the film, for face to camera interviews. The film’s authenticity is instantly boosted and one can enjoy the ride the rock-and-roll generation took Hollywood on.
The film is a refreshing take on Hollywood as it humanizes an industry which seems to be thriving at the moment. The Hollywood of the late 60s was a far cry from the low-risk-high-reward closed off funfair it is today. The unoriginal films combined with a lack of creative/business direction could have brought the whole industry down. As this seminal moment came to the horizon, the industry made a choice. It made a choice to go with unknown talents who had a penchant for originality. The film goes in depth into how directors ranging from Martin Scorsese to Sam Peckinpah and Peter Bogdanovich to Roman Polanski saved the industry from an imminent doomsday.
The film shows the earlier work of these men and does not herald them as geniuses off the bat. It shows their origins and logically explains as to how the studio system agreed to fund their projects. As all good stories must come to an end, the film also chronicles their failures. As Chris Atkinson of Cinemasins would say, auteur filmmakers are prone to losing touch with what connects to audiences sooner rather than later. They are prone to saying “I’ll make this film the way I want to God Damn It”, which results in messy over budget films that rarely make any sort of bank. The unbiased view the film takes whilst talking about this phenomenon is very captivating. It also shows how a newer generation of filmmakers who could balance vision and audience expectation took over from those auteurs who struggled to connect to the world at large.
But alas, the film itself falls victim to the very issues it tries to address. The film itself feels overly long or choppily edited at times. The narrative throughline seems hazy at best and the lesser said about the abrupt ending, the better. Some of the interviews are more informative than others and I felt mad Room 237 vibes when some folk went off on their tangential opinions.
All in all, the film is a good watch for most cinephiles. Most of us know these men and women and have been influenced by their work. We are those guys and gals who watch Straw Dogs or Who’s That Knocking At My Door and talk to the each other about how most modern films are inspired by those lesser known classics. It may not come off as strictly for cinephiles but it might end up being harder for a general audience to pick up on the myriad of references the film has to offer. Case and point, I’d like to ask the general public if they could accurately describe Roger Corman and all the work he has been involved with.
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